Tuesday, June 15, 2004

All roads lead to Rome: Bush and Tim LaHaye

Bush would have no national office without his born-again followers. It is no accident that the percentage of Americans who disbelieve the theory of evolution (44 percent -- give or take, depending on the poll) roughly matches the number of people who tell pollsters that W is doing a fine job. One thing fundamentalists know how to do is to maintain faith in the absence of proof.

The fundamentalist movement (and, by extension, the G.O.P.) has received a tremendous boost from the ill-written Left Behind books. Authorship of these eschatological melodramas is popularly ascribed to San Diego pastor Tim LaHaye, an ancient sage whose thick dark hair is a true miracle of either God or the Avery Laine Pre-Manufactured Hair Replacement System. The books are actually the product of a hired hack, who, by peddling pious frights, has hit the hack-pot.

LaHaye commands our respectful attention. If Bush receives a second term, first thanks will go to the conveniently villainous Osama Bin Laden, second thanks will go to the Machiavellian Karl Rove, and third thanks will go to Tim LaHaye, king of the fear-merchants.

I've kept an eye on LaHaye's antics ever since I skimmed his book Battle for the Mind way back in -- what was it? 1980? The volume was, is, a thuggishly-written end-times rant. LaHaye provided his own hackwork in those days; the results conjured up the image of a frustrated man assaulting a typewriter with fists, feet, and forehead. In this work, the good pastor provides a variant on the popular "Late Great Planet Earth" interpretation of the Apocalypse. You know the drill: The unstoppable Bolshies are growing stronger every year and will soon invade plucky Israel, thereby initiating the Second Coming. In LaHaye-land, the Antichrist is the Pope. While Hal Lindsey always balked at open anti-Catholicism, LaHaye made denominational bigotry the cornerstone of his (you should pardon the expression) thinking.

The original version of this book contains a crude drawing displaying the library of Mr. True Christian, as opposed to the library of Mr. Secular Humanist Librul. The TC needed but the 66 books of the Protestant Bible on his shelves; no other words were welcome in his home, the Left Behind series not having been written yet. By contrast, the SHL library included works by such notorious rascals as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. One of these rascals bore a name I did not then recognize: Weishaupt.

Well, thought I, it seems I can't be a proper Secular Humanist Librul until I get a book by this Weishaupt fellow.

Doing so was not easy. LaHaye had directed my attention to Adam Weishaupt, head of the Bavarian Illuminati -- an anti-royalist secret society crushed by the Austrian emperor in the late-18th century. Ever since the French Revolution, conspiracy buffs of a certain bent have preferred to believe that the dreaded Illuminati escaped destruction and established covert control over world events. In the 20th century, Nesta Webster, Myron C. Fagan and other hate-addled worthies wedded the Weishaupt fantasy to anti-Semitism. When the Holocaust dampened the world's tolerance for public displays of Jew-hatred, many right-wing paranoids relied upon Weishaupt as a sort of substitute bogeyman. Writers attached to the John Birch Society (a group usually careful to avoid overt racism) publicized the Illuminati myth in their late-1960s version of the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory.

If we picture the conspiratorialist viewpoint as a form of political rabies, we can guess who set LaHaye's mouth a-foaming, for he was associated with the Birchers. LaHaye, in turn, spread the disease to a conster named Mike Warnke, author of The Satan Seller, a work of fiction masquerading as fact. After being schooled by LaHaye, Warnke claimed to have personal knowledge that the Illuminati were the Evil Overlords of Earth. Via such vectors, the virus made its way throughout the fundamentalist underculture.

The Illuminati myth has been utterly debunked many times; no rational person believes it. But LaHaye still does. According to one interview, he has read no less than "fifty books" on the subject -- and by golly, the Illuminati must exist, or those fifty book would never have been written. (Logical, no?) In the eye of what passes for Tim LaHaye's mind, he still believes that evil Secular Humanist Libruls like Yours Truly possess library shelves brimming with the vile works of Adam Weishaupt.

I have tried to fulfill LaHaye's fear-fantasy -- honest! I really wanted to acquire one of these works for my very own shelves. Alas, no books by Weishaupt have been translated into English (although chunks of his writings appear in Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy). I did find a German copy of Weishaupt's Apologie -- signed by the author! -- in the Library of Congress. I doubt that it poses much of a threat to the Republic.

I hope the above precis proves that the Reverend Tim "Miracle Scalp" LaHaye is one of the silliest of our nation's many silly-billies. How is it, then, that he possesses such influence on the pseudo-thinking of a generation? And how did he come to hold such sway within the Republican party -- or at least within such powerful G.O.P. affiliate groups as the Moral Majority and the Council on National Policy?

In 1984, LaHaye headed up much of the Reagan campaign's outreach program to fundamentalist Christians. He also gave a prayer at the Republican convention that year. When I first learned of the LaHaye/Reagan connection, I thought: "Well, once word gets out, the Republicans will lose the Catholic vote." The more noisome excerpts from LaHaye's anti-Papist rants would, if given sufficient publicity, have outraged American Catholics. Alas, word never got out; the Democrats missed their opportunity to fracture support for Reagan. And so LaHaye continued to be a Big Cheese in the conservative movement.

Which brings us to the present day.

Although the Left Behind series soft-sells LaHaye's anti-Catholicism, few doubt that the man still maintains a bigoted view of the Pope. And many graduates of the LaHaye mind-laundromat function as shock troops for W.

And yet (here is where we enter the "strange bedfellows" part of our story) Bush is now reaching out to Catholics. The administration wants the Catholic hierarchy to be more activist on "social issues." (By "social issues," they mean abortion.) Bush forces, always eager for a wedge issue, seem tickled by all the current talk of priests refusing communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians such as John Kerry.

Bush wants Catholic votes. Desperately. Yet Bush will never denounce Tim LaHaye. Bush will never denounce his core supporters, many of whom make no secret of their Pope-as-Antichrist mind-set.

Democrats must now seize the opportunity they fumbled in 1984, and point out to Catholics that the Fundamentalist-In-Chief draws his strength from zealots who refuse to see the Roman church as part of the Christian community. A wedge can work in more than one direction.

Oh, and here's another item you can file under "strange bedfellows": LaHaye, like many fundamentalists, remains a die-hard supporter of Israel. Yet his beloved Illuminati conspiracy theory is close kin to the "Protocols of Zion" canard. If LaHaye ever listed those "fifty books" full of red-hot Illuminati info, he'd surely name works by Nesta Webster, Gerald L.K. Smith, Eustace Mullins, William Guy Carr and other noted Jew-haters.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

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